The Ascension of Elijah

Winkel Sermon – 2 Kings 2:1-15

One cannot help but ask, who is our Old Testament text about? Is it about Elijah, or is it about Elisha?

There is plenty to suggest that this is about Elijah; after all, this is the conclusion of his earthly ministry. He has served faithfully under wicked kings, most notably Ahab. He is perhaps the greatest prophet in Israel since Moses, and there will be none quite like him until John the Baptist and Jesus.

That this text is about Elijah would make perfect sense, after all, he is going around tying up the loose end of his ministry by anointing prophets to carry on the work of proclaiming the Word of the Lord after he is gone. And most significantly, we have God rewarding his faithful servant for a lifetime of exemplary service by taking him into heaven in a most spectacular way.

Yes, this text could most certainly be about Elijah.

Of course, this text could also be about Elisha. After all, what better way to start off one’s own faithful ministry, under another host of disobedient kings, than to show the utmost faithfulness to God’s most faithful prophet. Despite several attempts to deter him, Elijah just cannot get the young and eager Elisha to stay put, while Elijah marches on through his farewell tour.

That this text is about Elisha would be the perfect beginning to one’s own ministry in that he is handed the torch by his predecessor, validated in the eyes of all Israel that this man, Elisha, is the new standard bearer for faithfulness going forward, and his worthiness has been declared by none other, than God’s favorite prophet.

Yes, this text could most certainly be about Elisha.

Is this text the conclusion of a ministry, or is it the beginning of a ministry? Are we saying goodbye to Elijah, or hello to Elisha?

Dare we say, might it even be both?

That this text is assigned by the One Year Lectionary for The Ascension of Our Lord is most likely due to the fact that we see the ascension of Elijah, and the easiest sermon to preach would be that the exception granted to Elijah, of not tasting death, would one day be extended to all people, in that we too will ascend into the heavens in glory, just as Elijah did. And we will experience this glory, not because we ourselves will assume the position of God’s greatest prophet, but rather because by His own death, resurrection and ascension, Christ has shown us the way to the Father.

One does not need to be the greatest prophet in Israel, living and serving under the most wicked kings in the land, but rather, one need only believe and be baptized to be saved, and you too will see the glory that Elijah experiences today.

But dare I suggest that there is another message for us in this text, that applies to those gathered here for Winkel on this Tuesday before the Ascension.

I posed the question of who this text is about as a semi-trick question, perhaps you caught it. This text is about neither Elijah nor Elisha, this text is about the Lord.

Elijah was indeed the greatest prophet in Israel between Moses and John the Baptist, and yet, his time on earth was finite. He did not live forever in this world. For all of those times that he stood up in faith to Ahab and Jezebel, for his great triumph on Mount Carmel over the prophets of Baal, there still came a point where the Lord declared that his work was complete, and Elijah was taken to heaven.

The same with Elisha, who will have his own spectacular moments of faith, most notably with Naaman. There will come a day when the work of Elisha will be declared complete, and he too will be no more.

The same can be said of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul.

The same can be said of you and I.

There will come a day, when the Lord declares that your services are no longer needed; that your efforts are completed.

For what is the story of the Church today? Is it your story? Is it my story? Is it the story of those whose names are printed on ballots, or the story of those who stand at microphones, or the story of those who blog, or the story of those who make videos?

It is not.

The story of the Church today, in these days since the Ascension of Our Lord is about Christ. You and I are merely messengers who deliver the Word in whatever way we can, to ears that will listen, and sometimes to ears that do not listen.

The story of this text, the story of the Church today, is about Christ; it is about the one who remains and stands tall no matter who holds the prophetic office, no matter who holds the preaching office.

We stand in a long line of men who have proclaimed the word, we are merely the current group that stands at the forefront; another will come after us, and another after them; proclaiming not our own story, but the story of Christ, who lived, and died, and rose, and ascended, who now sits at His Father’s right hand in glory.

Elijah knew it, so too did Elisha, so too do you and I. The story of the Church today is the same story it has always been: Jesus saves, Jesus will raise you up on the Last Day, you will ascend to the Father’s right hand at the command of Jesus.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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